Think Fiber First for Healthier Teens

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This study suggests a strong connection between a healthy, fiber-rich diet and lower risk of metabolic syndrome in teens
Metabolic syndrome describes a condition in which a person has three or more risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke—including high blood pressure, high fat in the blood (triglycerides), low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood sugar, and carrying excess weight around the belly and upper body (a high waist circumference). While metabolic syndrome may seem like an “adult” problem, the condition can affect teens too, leading to serious health concerns later. Fortunately, some simple moves toward a healthier diet may reduce the risk of this condition among kids.

Fiber, fat, and nutrient density

To look at how diet affects the risk of metabolic syndrome in 12- to 19-year-old boys and girls, researchers collected nutrition surveys from 2,128 kids and identified who had metabolic syndrome. Some interesting results on the connections between diet and the risk of metabolic syndrome in adolescents came out of this study:

70% of the teens had at least one risk factor for the condition and 6.4% (138 out of 2,128) of the teens had metabolic syndrome. The biggest factor seemed to point to fiber consumption, as teens who ate the most had the lowest risk of metabolic syndrome:

  • Teens eating 11 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories were three times less likely to have metabolic syndrome compared with those eating 3 grams of fiber for each 1,000 calories.
  • For reference, if the average teen eats about 2,500 calories per day, teens getting 28 grams of fiber daily were three times less likely to have metabolic syndrome than teens eating 8 grams of fiber per day.
  • For each additional 1 to 3 grams of fiber eaten per 1,000 calories consumed, the risk of a teen having metabolic syndrome decreased by 20%.

There was no connection between the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and risk of metabolic syndrome in teens.

Fiber focus for healthier youth

This study suggests a strong connection between a healthy, fiber-rich diet and lower risk of metabolic syndrome in teens. With a few simple tweaks to your family’s nutrition habits, you can put everyone on the path to better long-term health:

  • Adding healthy foods into the diet is much easier than telling kids they can’t have their less-healthy favorites. Nobody likes to be told what they can’t eat, especially teens!
  • To keep the focus on healthful additions, stock up on any fiber-rich foods you already know your kids like, and introduce new options. Popular items include apples, bananas, high fiber cereal, nuts, dried fruit, cut up veggies and dip (try salsa, yogurt, or hummus), and whole grain crackers with peanut butter.
  • Model good behavior. If your teen sees you munching on potato chips, your message of healthier eating is less likely to hit home, so don’t keep these foods in the house, or save them for a special treat, like family movie night. Seeing you pick an apple and handful of nuts for a snack will do far more to get your kids on track nutritionally than all the talking in the world.

(J Am Diet Assoc 2011; 111:1730–4)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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